Bobby Hoeft’s Still Preaching For Ernie Harwell

On My Bookshelf!

Bobby Hoeft knows his Tigers. And how can a true fan and historian know the team without knowing legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell? Bobby amazed me with his response!

Q: What was your relationship with ERNIE HARWELL like?

A: “I was the Pastor of St. Paul’s  Lutheran Church in Farmington Hills, Michigan, in 1977, when I received a phone call from “Waddy” Spoelstra, a sports writer for a Detroit newspaper and the founder of the MLB Chapel Program.  He was inviting me to lead the Tigers in their Chapel Hour on a Sunday in August…it took me one millionth of a second to say yes.

The Angels were in town so I still brag about being the only Pastor to actually preach to Angels.  On top of this humor I actually met an Angel! There stood Ernie Harwell with Waddy Spoelstra outside of the office door leading into Tiger Stadium.  They were waiting for me and my young son, Bobby II.

They expected me to lead Chapel with Ernie Harwell standing right along side of me!  They forgot that I was still a mere human being. The only way that I made it through leading Nolan Ryan and his crew and then Ralph Houk’s boys was to just let the Holy Spirit do His job!  These Tigers led by Rusty Staub and Ron Leflore were impressed and so was Ernie & me….that Spirit does good work!

That Ernie Harwell is full  of surprises.  Once on a Sunday afternoon I was enjoying a Tiger game on TV when my wife answered the phone.  She answered and then stood there like a house by the side of the road stammering: ‘It’s Ernie Harwell.’  And sure enough it was!  All at once it dawned on me.  How can he be calling me right in the middle of a ball game that he’s announcing?  So, I asked him.  His answer was simple.  ‘I make these call during the innings that Paul (Carey) is announcing the game.’
Then in 2003 he agreed to writing columns for the WBWF…Not only did he agree to do that he also said the following words of wisdom: ‘Anybody that loves the Tigers will also love WBWF!’

And his calls kept coming until May 4, 2010.  That’s the day that Ernie became a real ANGEL”

Coming Monday: Bobby Hoeft shares a game plan for collectors. 

What Was Willie Mays’ Best Throw Ever? Not 1954, Says U.S. Navy Vet Bobby Hoeft!

Bobby Hoeft saw Mays in a
different uniform in 1953.

This week, I’m sharing treasures from the memory vault of Bobby Hoeft, author of When Baseball Was Fun and publisher of Detroit Tigers Quarterly.

Q: In the Navy, what player impressed you most?

A: “In 1953 I was playing with the Norfolk Navy Flyers.  We played against some great baseball players including Dick Groat, Johnny Antonelli and many more but the one player, who, incidentally also played center field, was the incomparable WILLIE MAYS.  He was electric,  amazing, and yet very humble. 

We were playing them at Fort Eustis in Virginia when he made a defensive gem which was even better than his 1954 World Series catch against VIC WERTZ of the Indians at the Polo Grounds.  This play was made just one year earlier on Bobby Jo Graham, our big catcher.  Graham smashed a 450 foot fast ball out into the darkness beyond the left field light poles. Everything was in play out there because there were no fences. 

Bobby Jo was into his home run trot while Mays was busy stationing himself in left field while the left fielder was chasing down the ball.  The ball suddenly comes flying out of the darkness and Willie Mays is now catching the ball and twisting into throwing position while Graham is innocently jogging between 3rd and home plate. 

From our dugout we could see what was happening and began screaming ‘RUN BOBBY JO, RUN!’  But to no good.  Willie had unleashed a missile that never touched the ground.  It was by far the greatest throw ever made in the history of baseball!  AND BOBBY JO WAS OUT.”

Coming Friday: Remembering Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell. 

Bobby Hoeft Joins Tigers Family!

Bobby Hoeft,
circa 1942

Bobby Hoeft deserves a statue in front of Comerica Park, too. As you’ve read from yesterday’s feature about his book and Detroit Tigers Quarterly newsletter (see his fun website to review, buy and subscribe!), he’s never stopped supporting HIS team. Here are more jewels from Hoeft’s baseball life:

Q: Who scouted you? Who signed you?

A: “At the ALL-AMERICAN GAME played at the Polo, Grounds in NYC on August 13, 1947,  there were scouts from every MLB team in attendance among the crowd of 35,000. During the week preceding the game we practiced every day at Yankee Stadium  where I talked to many scouts who were in attendance, however only one team interested me…..THE DETROIT TIGERS.  Upon arrival home after the HEARST ALL AMERICAN GAME, many scouts paraded in and out of our East Side home, but on October 2, 1947, with MOM & DAD looking on I signed with WISH EGAN, head scout for the Detroit Tigers.  Actually because I was under-aged, my DAD had to co-sign. Egan was a wonderful man and he made the signing a relaxed and comfortable experience. So, now the first step of my dream was secure and I was in the TIGER’S organization!”

Hoeft’s minor league career allowed him to co-star with baseball characters straight out of the Bull Durham movie.

Q: Who was your most notable manager in your baseball career?

A: “An easy question because he was my very first manager.  In the Spring of 1948 the Tigers optioned me to the Mahonoy City Brewers right in the middle of Pennsylvania where I was introduced to the one and only baseball guru: Clarence ‘Buck’ Etchison! Buck’s claim to fame happened in 1944 with the old BOSTON BRAVES,  when he clobbered 8 Taters!  He was all old school baseball.  WOW! For many of his exploits you’ll find them in my book: “WHEN BASEBALL WAS FUN” 

For now I’ll tell you my own personal experience with this skinny farmer from Endicott, Md., who used to spit his Red Man chewing tobacco all over the umpires, who hated the man!  Well, anyway on a hot July Sunday game at home, I managed to get picked off second, in a close game.  As I crawled off of the field there stood BUCK waiting for me on the top step.  I was ready for the undertaker!  My first words were, “I thought…”  Those two words were all I got out as he bellowed the following sentence  at me, “DON’T EVER THINK AGAIN “HUFFY” (his nickname for me) OR YOU’LL RUIN MY BASEBALL TEAM.” !!  Words I’ll take to my grave.”

Coming Thursday: U.S. Navy, 1953…Bobby Hoeft encounters a future Hall of Famer.

‘When Baseball Was Fun’ – Bobby Hoeft Preserves Classic Detroit Tigers Memories

From the classic D on the uniform to the voice of Ernie Harwell, the Detroit Tigers have been a tradition-rich team. Preserving those traditions is super-fan Bobby Hoeft.

Hoeft publishes a labor of love four times yearly, the “Detroit Tigers Quarterly.” The newsletter is rich with classic tales. Past issues have sparkled with contributions from J.W. Porter, Virgil Trucks and the golden-throated Harwell.

Hoeft’s baseball past is the stuff movies are made of. A former Tigers minor leaguer who grew up in Detroit, it’s easy to see how his love for the team remains. His book When Baseball Was Fun belongs on every Tiger fan bookshelf. To subscribe to the newsletter or buy an AUTOGRAPHED copy of the book by mail, check out Bobby’s website. Meanwhile, enjoy the memories Bobby was kind enough to share in this e-mail interview:

Q: What was the first Tiger game you attended like?

A: I came up the same entrance ramp that Charley Gehringer did down in the rf corner or also called the MICHIGAN/TRUMBULL  ramp.  Also, just like the Quiet Man I came in straight from a farm.  Him from Fowlerville, me from Rogers City.  AWESOME is still how I feel to this day  whenever I think about it.  My Dad had purchased tickets for a weekend series against those damned Yankees.  They were also awesome,  but nothing like BRIGGS STADIUM.  The beauty of how the colors of green and gray just seemed to meld together.  The blue sky with it’s white fluffy clouds added to this extravaganza…AND THEN THE PLAYERS!  There they were trotting around in their proud English “D” uniforms.   OOOOPPS, there goes another goose bump!

Q: Did you meet any Tigers growing up?  Memories?

After moving down from the farm to the lower east side of Detroit I became a center fielder for as many teams as I could squeeze into a 24 hour day.  That’s why in 1947 it was natural for me to be found on Belle Isle with another thousand Detroit amateur players trying out for the HEARST ALL AMERICAN BASEBALL TEAM.  The first step was to make the cut on the Island.  The next step was to make the cut the following week at Northwestern field.  Not only did I make the cut at NW I managed to hit a ball out over GRAND RIVER!  The last step was to play on the City All-Star team against a Michigan All-Star team at BRIGGS STADIUM. I had a field day, stealing three bases, including home, getting three hits and making a solid “country catch” in center field.

That night I shook hands with Charles Leonard Gehringer! What a thrill!

He was the manager of the out-state team and was given the honor of calling up the two winners. The place was slightly jammed.  For the Out-state team  read off “JIM ENGLEMAN  from Pontiac, Michigan, and the place went starkers.  Jimmy went  up to the speaker’s table to accept the honor.  After the crowd settled down the great CHARLEY GEHRINGER cleared his throat and said:  ‘And representing DETROIT will be that home plate stealer,  BOBBY HOEFT, from SOUTHEASTERN HIGH SCHOOL.’  

I can still hear my Dad’s whistle.  I can still feel Charley’s handshake.  And I can see my Mom crying.  The place was the Book Cadillac hotel where THE QUIET MAN and I met several times and where this East Side kid would cherish every word that this man directed  my way.”

(Thanks to Kohei Nirengi for alerting me to Bobby’s amazing story!)

Coming Wednesday: The dream come true…a hometown kid signs with HIS Detroit Tigers!

Seeking My Iowa Cubs (or, Is The Father Of Catcher Steve Christmas ‘Father’ Christmas?)

Even the day after Christmas, I’m still in a festive spirit.

Or, maybe it’s the STEVE Christmas spirit.

That “No Place Like Home for the Holidays” song sold me. I’m sticking close to home, writing to the men I’ve encountered as an Iowa Cubs fan.

Each sparkled for at least one day in Des Moines, often while I was in attendance. Those who’ll get my last letters of 2011 include:

Steve Christmas
Nate Frese
Joe Hicks
Mike Mahoney (a local hero, whose Dad was a famed high school coach)
Dan Rohn
Wade Rowdon
Bobby Scales
Dave Swartzbaugh
Chico Walker…

and team announcer Deene Ellis

Coming Tuesday: Do you know “When Baseball Was Fun”? Bobby Hoeft, possibly the greatest Detroit Tigers fan ever, still does!